Prophecy of the Völva (Seeress)

1967 W. H. Auden & Paul B. Taylor

Song of the Sybil





Heidi men call me when their homes I visit,
A far seeing Volva, wise in talismans.
Caster of spells, cunning in magic.
To wicked women welcome always.


Arm rings and necklaces, Odin  you gave me
To learn my lore, to learn my magic:
Wider and wider through all worlds I see.


Outside I sat by myself when you came,
Terror of the Gods,
[1] and gazed in my eyes.
What do you ask of me? Why tempt me?
Odin , I know where your eye is concealed,
Hidden away in the well of Mimir:
Mimir each morning his mead drinks
From Valfather's Pledge.
[2] Well would you know more?


Of Heimdal too and his horn I know.
Hidden under the holy tree
Down on it pours a precious stream

From Valfather's pledge. Well would you know more?


Silence I ask of the Sacred Folk,
Silence of the kith and kin of Heimdal:
At your will Valfather, I shall well relate
The old songs of men I remember best.


I tell of giants from times forgotten.
Those who fed me in former days:
Nine Worlds I can reckon, nine roots of the tree.
The wonderful Ash, way under the ground


When Ymir lived long ago
Was no sand or sea, no surging waves.
Nowhere was there earth nor heaven above.
Bur a grinning gap and grass nowhere.


The Sons of Bur then built up the lands.
Moulded in magnificence Middle Earth:
Sun stared from the south on the stones of their hall,
From the ground there sprouted green leeks.


Sun turned from the south, sister of Moon,
Her right arm rested on the rim of Heaven;
She had no inkling where her hall was,
Nor Moon a notion of what might he had,
The planets knew not where their places were.


The High Gods gathered in council
In their Hall of Judgement all the rulers:
To Night and to Nightfall their names gave,
The Morning they named and the Mid-Day,
Mid-Winter, Mid-Summer, for the assigning of years.


At Idavale the Aesir met:
Temple and altar they timbered and raised,
Set up a forge to smithy treasures,
Tongs they fashioned and tools wrought;


Played chess in the court and cheerful were;[3]
Gold they lacked not, the gleaming metal
Then came three, the Thurs maidens,
Rejoicing in their strength, from Giant-home.


The High Gods gathered in council.
In their Hall of Judgement: Who of the dwarves
Should mould man by mastercraft
From Brimir's blood and Bláin' s limbs?


Mótsognir was their mighty ruler,
Greatest of dwarves, and Durin after him :
The dwarves did as Durin directed,
Many man-orms made from the earth.


Nýi and Nídi, Nordri, Sudri,

Austri and Vestri, Althjof, Dvalin,

Bivor, Bavor Bömbur, Nóri,

An and Ánar, Óinn Mjodvitnir,

Veig and Gandálf, Vindálf, Thorin,

Thrór and Thrain, Thekkur, Littur,

Vitur, Nar and Nýrádur,
Fíli, Kíli, Fundin, Náli

Hefti, Víli, Hanar, Svíur,

Billing, Brúni, Bíldur, and Buri,

Frár, Hornbori Fraegur, Lóni,

Aurvangur, Jari, Eikinskjaldi:
(All Durin's folk I have duly named,)

I must tell of the dwarves in Dvalin' s host;
Like lions they were in Lokar's time:
In Juravale's marsh they made their dwelling,
From their stone hall set out on journeys.


There was Draupnir and Dólgthrasir,

Hár, Haugspori, Hlévangur, Glói,

Dori, Ori, Dufur, Andvari,

Skirfir, Virvir Skófidur, Ái,

Álf and Yngvi, Eikinskjaldi,

Fjalar and Frosti, Finn and Ginnar:

Men will remember while men live
The long line of Lofar's forbears.


Then from the host Three came,
Great, merciful, from the god's home:
Ash and Elm on earth they found,
Faint, feeble, with no fate assigned them


Breath they had not, nor blood nor senses,
Nor language possessed, nor life-hue:
Odin gave them breath, Haenir senses,
Blood and life-hue Lothur gave.


I know an ash-tree, named Yggdrasil:
Sparkling showers are shed on its leaves
That drip dew into the dales below,
By Urd's Well it waves evergreen,
Stands over that still pool,
Near it a bower whence now there come
The Fate Maidens, first Urd,
Skuld second, scorer of runes,
Then Verdandi, third of the Norns:
The laws that determine the lives of men
They fixed forever and their fate sealed.


The first war in the world I well remember,
When Gullveig was spitted on spear-points
And burned in the hall of the High God:
Thrice burned, thrice reborn,
Often laid low, she lives yet,


The gods hastened to their Hall of Judgement,
Sat in council to decide whether
to endure great loss in loud strife
Or let both command men’s worship.


At the host Odin hurled his spear
In the first world-battle; broken was the plankwall
Of the gods fortress: the fierce Vanes
Caused war to occur in the fields.


The gods hastened to their Hall of Judgement,
Sat in council to discover who
Had tainted all the air with corruption
And Odin's Maid
[7] offered to the giants.


One Thor felled in his fierce rage;[8]
Seldom he sits when of such he hears:
Oaths were broken, binding vows,
Solemn agreements sworn between them.


Valkyries I saw, coming from afar,
Eagerly riding to aid the Goths;
Skuld bore one shield, Skögul another
Gunn, Hild, Göngul and Spearskögul:
Duly have I named the Daughters of Odin ,
The valiant riders the Valkyries.


Baldur I saw the bleeding God,
His fate still hidden, Odin's son:
Tall on the plain a plant grew,
A slender marvel, the mistletoe.


From that fair shrub, shot by Hodur,
Flew the fatal dart that felled the God,
But Baldur' s brother was born soon after:
Though one night old, Odin 's Son
Took a vow to avenge that death.


His hands he washed not nor his hair combed.
Till Baldur's Bane
[9] was borne to the pyre:
Deadly the bow drawn by Vali,
The strong string of stretched gut,
But Frigga wept in Fensalir
For the woe of
Valhalla. Well, would you know more?


I see one in bonds by the boiling springs;
Like Loki he looks, loathsome to view:
There Sigyn sits, sad by her husband,
In woe by her man.
Well would you know more?

From the east through Venom Valley runs
Over jagged rocks the River Gruesome.


North, in Darkdale, stands the dwelling place
Of Sindri's kin,
[10] covered with gold;
A hall also in Everfrost,
The banquet hall of Brimir the giant.


A third I see, that no sunlight reaches,
On Dead Man's Shore: the doors face northward,
Through its smoke vent venom drips,
Serpent skins enskein that hall.


Men wade there tormented by the stream,
Vile murderers, men forsworn
And artful seducers of other men’s wives:
Nidhogg sucks blood from the bodies of the dead
The wolf rends them.
Well, would you know more?


In the east dwells a crone,[11] in Ironwood:
The brood of Fenris are bred there
Wolf-monsters, one of whom
Eventually shall devour the sun.


The giant’s Watchman, joyful Eggthur
Sits on his howe and harps well:
The red cock, called All-Knower
Boldly crows from Birdwood.


Goldencomb to the Gods crows
Who wakes the warriors in
A soot red hen also calls
From Hel's hall, deep under the ground.


Loud howls Garm before Gnipahellir,
Bursting his fetters, Fenris runs:
Further in the future afar I behold
The twilight of the gods who gave victory.


Brother shall strike brother and both fall,
Sisters' sons defiled with incest;
Evil be on earth, an Age of Whoredom,
Of sharp sword-play and shields’ clashing,
A Wind-age, a Wolf-age till the world ruins:
No man to another shall mercy show.


The waters are troubled, the waves surge up:
Announcing now the knell of Fate,
Heimdal winds his horn aloft,
On Hel's road all men tremble.


Yggdrasil trembles, the towering ash
Groans in woe; the wolf is loose:
Odin speaks with the head of Mimir
Before he is swallowed by Surt's kin.


From the east drives Hrym, lifts up his shield
The squamous serpent squirms with rage
The great worm with the waves contending
The pale-beaked eagle pecks at the dead,
Shouting for joy: the ship Naglfar


Sails out from the east, at its helm Loki
With the children of darkness, the doom-bringers
Offspring of monsters, allies of the Wolf,
All who Byleist's Brother follow.


What of the gods? What of the elves?
Gianthome groans the gods are in council
The dwarves grieve before their door of stone,
Masters of walls.
Well, would you know more?


Surt with the bane of branches[13] comes
From the south, on his sword the sun of the Valgods,
Crags topple, the crone falls headlong,
Men tread Hel's road, the Heavens split open.


A further woe falls upon Hlín
As Odin
 comes forth to fight the wolf;
The killer of Beli battles with Surt:
Now shall fall Frigga's beloved.


Now valiant comes Valfather's son,
Vidar, to vie with Valdyr in battle,
Plunges his sword into he son of Hvedrung,
Avenging his father with a fell thrust.


Now the son of Hlödyn and Odin  comes
To fight with Fenris; fiercest of warriors,
He mauls in his rage all Middle Earth;
Men in fear all flee their homesteads;
Nine paces back steps Bur's son
Retreats from the Worm of taunts unafraid.


Now death is the portion of doomed men,
Red with blood the buildings of gods,
The sun turns black in the summer after,
Winds whine.
Well, would know more?


Earth sinks in the sea, the sun turns black,
Cast down from Heaven are the hot stars,
Fumes reek, into flames burst,
The sky itself is scorched with fire.


I see Earth rising a second time
Out of the foam, fair and green;
Down from the fells fish to capture,
Wings the eagle; waters flow.


At ldavale the Aesir meet:
They remember the Worm of Middle Earth,
Ponder again the Great Twilight
And the ancient runes of the High God.


Boards shall be found of a beauty to wonder at,
Boards of gold in the grass long after,
The chess boards they owned in the olden days.


Unsown acres shall harvests bear,
Evil be abolished, Baldur return
And Hropt's hall with Hod rebuild,
Wise gods.
Well, would you know more?


Haenir shall wield the wand of prophecy,
The sons two brothers set up their dwelling
In wide Windhome.
Well, would you know more?


Fairer than sunlight, I see a hall
A hall thatched with gold in Gimle:
Kind Lords shall live there in delight for ever.


Now rides the Strong One[14] to Rainbow Door,
Powerful from heaven, the All-Ruler:
From the depths below a drake comes flying
The Dark Dragon from Darkfell,
Bears on his opinions the bodies of men,
Soars overhead I sink now.


[1] The Terror of the Gods is Odin.

[2] Valfather’s Pledge is Odin’s Eye, which he gave to Mimir in exchange for wisdom. Mimir set it in a goblet from which he drinks his mead.

[3] Actually chess was most likely not played in ancient Scandinavia; some form of backgammon is more probable (d. strophe 55).

[4] Runes were carved in wood for purposes of divination.  

[5] The battle between. the Aesir and the Vanes almost certainly has its origin in an historical battle between Vane-worshiping tribes of the South Baltic and Aesir-worshiping Norsemen. Later the pantheons merged with an interchange of deities.

[6] Loki was responsible for tainting the air.

[7] Freya is Odin's maid.

[8] i.e. Thor felled one of the giants.

[9] Baldur's Bane is the mistletoe.

[10] Sindri's kin are the dwarves.

[11] The crone is the mother of two wolves, Skoll and Hati, who will respectively swallow the sun and the moon.


[12] Heimdal's horn is the signal that Asgard has been invaded.

[13] Bane of branches is a kenning for fire.


[14] The Strong One is the resurrected Baldur.